NYFF: Miyazaki bids farewell, Roger Michell presents ‘Le Week-End’, and a ‘Afternoon of a Faun’

The Wind RisesThe Wind Rises (★★½)

For some reason, the films of Hiyazo Miyazaki never really did it for me over the years. Ironically, his final feature The Wind Rises has been getting rather middling reviews so far but represents the closest I’ve ever come to embracing one of his movies. This is an amazingly beautiful bit of animation, albeit one with an incredibly slow pacing and a second act that brings things to a grinding halt. Biopics are not generally where animators focus their energy, but Miyazaki has always been a special case, so this new challenge almost makes sense. I do wish there was more to appreciate besides the visuals, but that’s always been the case for me with his works. It just seems that this time I’m not alone in feeling this way, even here at the New York Film Festival.

The film tells the story of Jiro Horikoshi, a brilliant young man who designed Japanese fighter planes during World War II. We first meet him as an imaginative child, daydreaming of flight but bound to the ground by poor eyesight. A dream in which he interacts with a legendary aeronautic engineer convinces Jiro to take that avenue instead. Soon we catch up to him as an up and coming student before being recruited to work for a top company. Through his innovations, eventually a design will be made for a Japanese fighter that revolutionizes the industry. Along the way, he falls in love with a girl he saves during an earthquake, forges lasting bonds with his colleagues, and continues to dream of flight. For an over two hour long bit of animation, there isn’t too much plot and even less in the way of an overarching story. You’re mostly on hand to fall in love with the miracle of flight and gaze at Miyazaki’s skills one last time.

I’d imagine that lovers of the filmmaker will find more to appreciate here than I did, but it’s interesting to note that this is the first Miyazaki feature that I like more than some of his fans seem to. Disney will be giving this a Best Animated Feature campaign later on this year, and while I wouldn’t personally vote to give it the Oscar, I could certainly see voters honoring the director for this distinct change of pace. The Wind Rises is a very mixed bag, but there’s definitely more to like than to dislike here.

le weekendLe Week-End (★★★)

After the misfire that was Hyde Park on Hudson (even if I sort of liked it, removed from Oscar expectations), director Roger Michell is back on more solid ground with the romantic comedy Le Week-End. Armed with a trio of enjoyable and winning performances from Jim Broadbent, Lindsay Duncan, and Jeff Goldblum, Michell is mostly content to just let his actors do their thing. While there’s not too much to get worked up about from either his direction or the script by Hanif Kureishi, almost everything works in this film. The end is a bit of a letdown, but up until then there’s plenty to enjoy.

Nick (Broadbent) and Meg (Duncan) are a long married British couple who’ve decided to take a vacation to Paris years after they made their first trip there. Nick wants to rejuvenate the union while Meg is considering other options, but they both hope to have a good time there. Very little goes right for them though, leading to almost constant sparring between the two. They obviously love each other, but the passion has gone out of their lives. This goes on for a while until Nick’s old friend from college Morgan (Goldblum) spots him and invites him to a party. That changes the pace from Nick complaining about the cost of things and Meg being annoyed by him to something a little bit different. There’s a few dramatic moments in the third act, but I suspect most of you know where this is going.

I really liked seeing Broadbent and Goldblum let loose, though the best performance in the film definitely belongs to Duncan. She has the more well rounded part and makes the most of it. She’s not going to get any awards attention, but it’s one of the best performances of the festival so far. Le Week-End is a modest diversion, but it’s a successful one. It opens later on this month and is definitely worth checking out.

afternoon of a faunAfternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq (★★★)

An enjoyable if slight documentary on the ballerina in the title, Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq is the kind of flick I’d never see outside of a festival environment. Here at NYFF, I took a chance and sat through this look at Tanaquil Le Clercq and her relationships with George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins…and you know what? I’m glad I did overall. Though nothing to make a fuss about, this is a short and sweet look at someone I’d probably never know existed otherwise.

Those of you who have an interest in ballet should be aware of those three folks, but even if you’re like me and knew nothing, there’s some interest to be had. Essentially, Tanaquil Le Clercq was a dancer that captured imaginations. She looked and acted differently than anyone else, which caught the eye of the great George Balanchine. She became a muse not just to Balanchine but to Jerome Robbins as well. They both were captivated by her in all regards. Balanchine wound up married to her and Robbins came up with his well known creation Afternoon of a Faun for Tanny. Le Clercq was a top dancer in her time until she contracted polio and was paralyzed while on a European tour. She never danced again, but her impact remains to this day.

Director Nancy Buirski gives you the necessary details of the story in a clear and concise way, but she does so a little more dryly than I’d prefer. Had I been more interested in ballet it might not have bugged me, but being clueless about it put me at a disadvantage and her style kept me at arm’s length a lot. Still, she does enough right here to get the thumbs up from me. Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq probably is best suited for television, but I don’t regret seeing it here one bit.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!